Build your interface first

One of the decisions I made early on was to build BuyReply using an “Interface First” approach. In building BuyReply, we designed over 40 screens before a single line of a specs or developer notes were written – let alone any code.

The expression “pictures tell a thousand words” is no less true when it comes to building software for the internet. By designing the screens upfront we can use them as a reference point for much of the work that has to be done when building the application. The interface contains all the fields in the application so this makes it easy to develop a schema and write any necessary functional specifications.

Another good reason to develop the interface first is because developers are able to intuitively understand what the application should do simply by browsing through the flows. This removes much of the needs to write pages of functional specifications which often exist to explain what the interface intuitively communicates. Developers can understand 80% of what is required by looking at an interface design. The other 20% is the behind the scenes stuff that needs to be nutted out and explained in precise detail.

By tackling the inteface you are designing the screens that your users are going to interact with. Users do not care about code. They care about the things they can see and use and interact with and that is presented via the user interface.

Another good things about designing using an interface first approach is that the interface is really easy to change. Moving layers around in Photoshop or changing HTML code is relatively light work. It means that you can show people your proposed designs, iterate on them quickly and get feedback from those around you as to whether the screens are intuitive and easy to understand and use.

Writing code is heavy and slow and reworking it is costly and expensive which is why we are building BuyReply with the interface first.

Private Beta

While BuyReply is far from a beta launch, I am developing a product roadmap so that we have a strategy in place that we can follow from concept through to launch and beyond. One of the stages of the roadmap is the Private Beta which I wanted to talk about.

My biggest fear is spending a lot of time building a product only to find out months later that customers don’t want it. To mitigate this risk we need to show customers what we are working on quite early, so that we can iterate around their feedback and ensure there is a tangible product-market-fit.

BuyReply can be used by almost any business or brand however what is important is that we select a small group of “concierge” customers and let them use the software initially so that we can learn, test, measure and iterate on our initial build to ensure we are headed down the right path with as little guesswork and assumptions built into our platform as possible.

Building a web services platform is a big project and the worst thing that can happen is that you build something which you think is what customers want, however when you show your first customer your solution you find out that the platform is not something they would use, or the fundamental functionality is not quite right.

In order to mitigate this risk we’ve built an invitation only private beta stage into our roadmap and plan to open the platform up to a select group of clients when we are ready to do so.

Running a private beta is good for a number of reasons:

  1. It sets realistic expectations – The phrase “beta” sets the expectation in the customers mind that our offering might not be perfect providing much needed “leeway” when launching a software offering for the fist time. The idea of being the first to use our platform will appeal to innovative customers and brands who feel comfortable being early adopters. These are the kinds of customers we want to work with in the beta phase as the concept of being a part of something new and innovative before their competitors get access to it will appeal to these kinds of businesses.
  2. It implies a trustworthy relationship – Customers that opt to participate in the private beta are implying that they trust our offering and see value in it, and at the same time we are laying our cards out on the table admitting that the platform is not perfect, but we believe it is ready for you to trial. By focussing on a handful of “concierge” customers we can build a lasting relationship with them and ensure that our platform meets their needs in terms of functionality, performance, security and more. By running a private beta we are able to communicate openly and honestly with our select clients in a controlled setting.
  3. It helps us iterate on feedback - It is very unlikely that the founders original vision of any concept is identical to the product that launches as version 1.0. Web concepts tend to pivot, morph, grow, shrink and change in their embryonic stages before they are released to market. The process of taking customer feedback, learning from it and iterating on the build is key to ensuring we actually release something people want. Running a private beta ensures us that we’ve communicated with our customers, taken their feedback on board and made the necessary changes to our product to ensure their needs have been taken into consideration.
  4. We can test different customer types - We are able to pick and choose beta customers that are likely to use our platform for different purposes to simulate what might happen in the real world once the platform goes live. It will give us perspective into the functionally that is missing from different viewpoints and allow us to test the platform and flows from the point of view of different customers.
  5. Managing scale - Launching a web services platform to the masses requires a robust infrastructure that can scale. Via a private beta we can selectively choose customers based on size and progressively target larger customers as we gain a better understanding of how the system scales under load.

 

The Magic of Making

“Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently. And it’s that process that is the magic.”

- Steve Jobs via Daring Fireball

Lind Ventures Labs – Dream. Think. Do.

Recently I launched Lind Ventures Labs, albeit quietly at www.lindventures.com which is something I’ve been wanting to do for 3 years. In fact in 2008 I had the idea of establishing Lind Ventures however it was unrealistic to do so while at Lind Golf.

What is Lind Ventures Labs?

Lind Ventures Labs is part of a new breed of business models which are emerging amongst founders who have had success in the past, but want to continue to build things for the web. Founders are by enlarge entrepreneurial characters and they’d rather be building out their own ideas than investing. My skill set and the skill set of the Lind Ventures network is a building skill set, not an investing skill set so Lind Ventures has been established to take advantage of these strengths. We exist to make stuff.

Our plan is to focus on one product at a time and use our own resources to build it out to a minimum viable product (MVP) and attract a number of anchor customers and only then will we assess the need for external capital. Ideally we plan to bootstrap our products to profitability then reach out to one or two key strategic investors in Silicon Valley and bring them on board once we have revenue and customers. For each product or business we build, we aim to be in a position where we need investors for their network and not necessarily for their money.

The Labs model is possible because the cost of building internet products and web services is at an all time low thanks to the abundant and affordable platform as a service (PaaS) and cloud computing offerings that exist today. It means that engineers can focus on building great applications without worrying about infrastructure issues and costs.

Furthermore I believe that investors are having to find smarter ways to differentiate themselves as the capital requirements of building and launching internet products continues to drop. What is important these days is having a great idea and a team capable of making the idea a reality. A strong team with a good idea will attract the right money – and more importantly the right customers. I also believe great ideas and great teams are very hard to find, so investors – beware.

At Lind Ventures Labs we strive to build big ideas that can be monetized from day zero and we strive to hire the best engineering talent for the job. We exist to build products, not features and companies not start-ups. We’re happy to build products that take advantage of the social graph but we don’t believe that relying on the social graph is a sustainable business model, although there are exceptions to every rule.

We plan to build one or two web products a year that service common customers, however we understand the importance of focus and that great businesses take time to build and grow. The number of products we build will depend on the uptake of each idea in the marketplace so we might only ever build one amazing company or product and focus entirely on that. Time will tell.

Our Manifesto 

Lind Ventures labs focuses on building and iterating on new internet and mobile products and bringing the best to market. We are not an incubator or an investment firm. There are plenty of places where existing start-ups can get help, funding, and mentorship. Lind Ventures labs is not one of them. We don’t want to just politely assist; we exist to do. We exist to make things. Rather than find companies to help, we find entrepreneurial people: engineers, designers and product specialists and we brainstorm, prototype, and make ideas happen.

Our Values


What we are working on:
BuyReply

BuyReply enables eCommerce outside of the browser
BuyReply is an open marketing platform that empowers merchants to facilitate transactions and brand interactions outside of the browser via any broadcast medium including radio, print, television, email and SMS. Consumers can transact and interact instantly via any mobile device without having to install an app.

Interview on Kochie’s Business Builders

This morning Kochie’s Business Builders aired an episode of their popular show around the topic of building a business with an exit in mind. I was interviewed a couple of weeks ago however the episode aired today and is now available to watch online.

Part 1 was mostly a recap of the episode that aired last year:

 

Part 2 was an interview about the exit:

Learning to trust that things will work out

As an entrepreneur your career path is never a straight line. When you’re building something and in the thick of it, you are laser focused and nothing else seems to matter however when you’re between opportunities or after selling out it can feel like you are in no-mans land, lacking direction, strategy and purpose. The feeling of being in the game and at the coal face of a business is an addictive and potent drug. Being a startup founder of a great idea can be one of life’s most thrilling and exciting experiences while at the same time it can be one of lifes most demoralising experiences. I love the stress of buiding a business and I know I am much happier with that stress than without it.

I learn’t this about myself after selling Lind Golf. The mindset that resides after extricating yourself from something you’ve been so passionate about for so long that has been a defining force of your life can leave you feeling uncertain and purposeless. The sale of a business is like flicking a light switch from on to off. You might make money from selling out however the same character that has the drive to build a company is unlikely to be content sitting idle for too long. I believe entrepreneurs are born and that the enthusiasm to create is just part of their make up.  When you exit, you’re on the side walk standing still, not in the race car dodging corners at full pace. Driven people don’t like standing still. This experience invoked a lot of interesting emotion for me. It leaves one thinking of what might be next and whether or not your first company was a stroke of luck or a one-hit-wonder. Nobody wants to be a one-hit-wonder, just ask Vanilla Ice.

So for a few months I took time off and did a lot of thinking and some second guessing. I took a job at a VC firm and realised I don’t want to invest (at least not at this stage of my life and definitely not at an Australian VC because there are fundamental issues trying to be a VC that is not in any way associated with Silicon Valley/Alley). I found VC boring because I wasn’t creating value. I was pushing paper. (I think a VC will always be a VC because its a different mindset to building a company. I also believe it is uncommon for a VC to transition into a successful entrepreneur however a successful entrepreneur can easily become a great VC, and there are plenty of good examples such as A16Z).

So after this experience with some doubt in my mind I decided to heed the advice of Steve Jobs. His commencement speech at Stanford said the following:

Believe that things will work out… follow your intuition and curiosity… trust your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path… You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future… The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it… Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Since leaving the VC gig I have set up Lind Ventures Labs and I’m well on my way to founding a new company. I can’t say anything about it yet, however what I can say is that you need to trust that things will work out. You can go through phases, sometimes months or years where you know you’re not on the right track but the key is to listen to your self and trust the voice inside of you because it somehow already knows where you should be and what you should be doing. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and follow your intuition. You’ll be happier being the person you truely are than trying to be someone you’re not.

I’m more excited about the new venture I’m starting than I am about any idea I’ve ever seen or done before. Did I even dream of feeling this enthusiastic about something just 4 or 6 weeks ago? No… But it’s working out the second time around and it’s great to be back in the game.

Removing friction from retail

“The line between consumer and retailer, the counter blurs. You see this at Apple, people don’t wait in line, don’t wait behind a point of sale system, there is no counter. It takes the friction out.”

Jack Dorsey (Founder of Twitter & Square)

Why founders don’t dress up

If you haven’t read The Big Short by Michael Lewis, you should. It’s a thrilling read about the traders who shorted CDO’s and made a fortune when the housing bubble burst in the US.

Lewis makes some amusing observations describing how people in finance can be told apart by how they dress.

This is an excerpt from The Big Short describing finance guys on the train heading in to work:

If they were on their BlackBerrys, they were probably hedge fund guys, checking their profits and losses in the Asian markets.

If they slept on the train they were probably sell-side people — brokers, who had no skin in the game.

Anyone carrying a briefcase or a bag was probably not employed on the sell side, as the only reason you’d carry a bag was to haul around brokerage research, and the brokers didn’t read their own reports — at least not in their spare time.

Anyone carrying a copy of The New York Times was probably a lawyer or a back-office person or someone who worked in the financial markets without actually being in the markets.

The guys who ran money dressed as if they were going to a Yankees game. Their financial performance was supposed to be all that mattered about them, and so it caused suspicion if they dressed too well.

If you saw a buy-side guy in a suit, it usually meant that he was in trouble, or scheduled to meet with someone who had given him money, or both. Beyond that, it was hard to tell much about a buy-side person from what he was wearing.

The sell side, on the other hand, might as well have been wearing their business cards: The guy in the blazer and khakis was a broker at a second-tier firm;

The guy in the three-thousand-dollar suit and the hair just so was an investment banker at J.P. Morgan or someplace like that.

Z Index for Sounds

Musica comprimida  -  Compressed MusicSomeone needs to invent a Z index for sounds. A Z index is a CSS command that lets web designers layer images and website element on top of each other in a specific order. I often have 2 or 3 browsers open each with 10 tabs or more so finding the one playing sound which needs to be paused is frustrating. I think developers should be able to layer sounds on top of each other in a specific order.

If I want to play a video on YouTube and I’m listening to Pandora or Turntable.FM through a browser in the background, I have to find the tab of the browser thats playing the music, pause it and then start the video. Wouldn’t it be great if the browser could detect which sound was played most recently, mute the background sound and then resume it once the more recent sound is finished or the browser is closed?

I’m not sure how this can be done, maybe via browser plugin…

This is what disruption looks like

I love this photo. This is what disruption looks like.

A few people in a setting like this can literally change an industry. If you haven’t used turntable.fm and you’re not in the US set up Unblock-US and test it out. It is AWESOME.